The seven ages of science. 6/7 Age of war.

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About this work


Radio documentary presented by Lisa Jardine who traces the evolution of scientific endeavour in Britain over the last four centuries. In this episode she explores an age of war in the 20th century. Historian, Liz Bruton, talks about the First World War and the government's attitudes to science and engineering. Graham Farmelo, author of 'Churchill's Bomb', discusses Churchill's interest in science along with his prominence in writing about nuclear weapons. Juliet Gardiner discusses how by 1918 scientists were valued more and there were the beginnings of a state funded approach to science and warfare. The 1920s and 1930s, saw an age of social change, and Liz Bruton talks about how, perhaps urged on by science fiction (e.g. Flash Gordon's ray gun), there was concern that a death ray would be invented. Scottish scientist, Robert Watson-Watt rebuffed the possibility of making one but suggested the use of electromagnetic waves for the detection of planes - the beginning of radar. The advances in radar at the University of Birmingham are considered, along with the state sponsored government control of science driven by Henry Tizard. Due to their nationality, scientists, Otto Frisch and Rudolf Peierls, were banned from helping with radar technology but did work on an atomic bomb which is discussed by historian of science and technology, Jon Agar, and also Graham Farmelo. Lisa Jardine discusses problems of conscience over the atomic bomb with reference to Otto Frisch and the physicist Leo Szilard. The Manhattan Project is briefly debated. The recruitment of scientists to work on projects other than their specialism is talked about. Science writer and biographer, Matt Ridley, mentions Francis Crick who was recruited to work on mine detection technology. Mathematician, Frank Kelly, and later biologist, Paul Nurse, discuss the new (relatively cheap) way science was developed in conjunction with the analysis and understanding of data. Matt Ridley, talks more about Francis Crick and how his training as a physicist brought something new to biology, as well as his use of information transfer and interpretation. This is further discussed in relation to science, and to Crick's later career with molecular biology and how Crick and Watson working together acted as a catalyst to the discovery of DNA in 1953. Lisa Jardine considers the post-1945 public mood which looked towards the future, as exemplified by the Festival of Britain in 1951. Juliet Gardiner talks about the new interest in technology and showing how science was embedded in nature and life. Many leading scientists worked on the Festival, including Nobel Prize winners, Kathleen Lonsdale and Dorothy Hodgkin who, with the Festival Pattern Group, used their discoveries for pattern design. Wallpaper, textiles and wearable fabrics for the public included patterns based on the structure of real molecules. The mid-20th century was a time when British academic scientists worked with industry, and the military, on ambitious scientific projects and expected to deliver outcomes.


UK : BBC Radio 4, 2013.

Physical description

1 CD (28 min.)

Copyright note

BBC Radio 4.


Broadcast on 11 September 2013.

Creator/production credits

Produced by Anna Buckley for BBC Radio 4 ; presented by Lisa Jardine.



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